Swallows and sailors

by Gail Emerson June 16, 2016

A long friendship with seafarers

sailors with swallow tattoos - two designs

These two sailors with swallow tattoos are available as limited edition screen prints. They are part of the DM Ocean Collection 

Swallows represent speed and travel, as previously blogged, due to their long migration when they cover around 200 miles a day. The swallow's travels between Europe and Africa give it an obvious synergy with roaming sailors. The birds return home after each journey, usually to the exact same nesting spot. Many a sailor's wife would have been keeping her fingers crossed for a similar trait in her traveller!

Their distinctive forked tail makes them easy to pick out in all manner of drawing and illustrations where they appear frequently. None more so than as a popular tattoo design. Back when only sailors and convicts had tattoos, sailors would have a swallow inked to signify successful completion of a long journey. One swallow represented 5 000 nautical miles – no mean feat in the early days of sailing. Some very experienced sailors would wear two swallow tattoos as a badge of pride, having completed two such lengthy journeys. Daniel's limited collection designs show the sailors with a swallow woven into their more intricate tattoo sleeves. They are producing using a skilled screen print technique, drawing on Japanese print traditions.

In fact, the swallow is also known as the 'bird of freedom', as the species does not tolerate a cage and won't breed in captivity. A sentiment that many a wandering sailor could understand, when going aboard a ship was the only route out of a claustrophobic community.

These limited edition Ocean Collection prints honour long association between swallows and sailors. Both have a swallow as prominent feature of the tattoo art, yet one that blends effortlessly within a broader design. The Ocean Collection was a pre-cursor to Daniel's popular animal designs, with the tattoos providing inspiration for the DM Collection's signature style of showing the animal's habitat within it's body. Find out more about the evolution of Daniel's work here. 

Sailor with Tattoos and Sailor with Swallows are both available as limited edition screen prints on fine Japanese Atsukuchi paper

Shop the whole Ocean Collection. 




Gail Emerson
Gail Emerson

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